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The Perfect Dining Experience for Cows

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PROVIDING “THE PERFECT DINING EXPERIENCE FOR COWS”  can reap big benefits for a dairy, notes Rick Grant, president of W.H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute.  Grant offers these six tips to creating this ideal dining experience for cows: 

  1. Have feed available to cows, as this can make a four to eight pound difference in milk production. “Feed has to be in the bunk when she wants it and in the amount she wants,” Grant said. “We have to make sure the feed is there.” 

  2. Ensure feed is uniformly distributed along the bunk. After all, when there is not a consistent amount of feed along the bunk, cows kick in their grazing behaviors which can cause 51 percent more switches in feeding locations and cause 3.5 times more competitive interactions. 

  3. Never allow the bunk to sit empty for more than three hours as cows get hungry after three hours. Grant says a bunk that is empty overnight – from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. – will reduce a cow’s DMI by 3.5 pounds per day. 

  4. Feed cows twice a day. When comparing feeding twice a day vs. feeding once a day, Grant saw cows had more feed availability during the day, cows weren’t sorting their feed as much and cows were consuming 3.1 pounds more dry matter per day, which increased milk yield by 4.4 pounds per day. Grant adds that feeding twice a day also benefits the rumen of the cow. 

  5. Strive for a 3 percent feed refusal. He notes that, if a ration is mixed for a 2 percent feed refusal, the probability that high-producing cows are getting shortchanged is larger. 

  6. Push up the feed every half hour during the first two hours after feeding when “it’s the most competitive time at the bunk.” This helps optimize feed intake and feeding behavior and improve the feed efficiency while not impacting resting time. 

  7. Let cows rest. Grant says, for every 3.5 minutes of rest a cow has lost, they will sacrifice one minute of eating. “Lying time is a priority over eating,” Grant said. “Cows will lie down instead of eating if they are forced to choose.” 

  8. Avoid overstocking to lessen aggression and displacements among cows as well as sorting of feed. A study shows, with 12 to 18 inches of bunk space, some cows chose to eat the lower quality feed alone. Even with 24 inches of bunk space per cow, 40 percent of less aggressive cows chose to eat alone. Because barns typically aren’t designed for bunk space of more than 24 inches per cow, Grant suggests bunk stocking densities be less than 100 percent and 80 percent for transition cows.

 

Source: “The Perfect Dining Experience for Cows” PDPW Managers Memo, September 2015.

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